Reaping Golden Harvest

Co. drools over mainland moolah

HONG KONG — Impatience can be a virtue. While the Hong Kong film industry prays for the World Trade Organization to end mainland China’s super-tight quotas on foreign films, one local studio has become tired of waiting.

Golden Harvest wants to get its hands on mainland moolah by leveraging its 30-year-old brand into the TV market.

The company’s first TV series starts shooting in April but market research got CEO Stephen Chu so enthused about the possibilities of mainland TV that he has commissioned four other series before the first even hits Chinese TV screens.

“We asked if Golden Harvest produced content in other forms, what would people there think?” Chu says. “The response was overwhelming. They have strong belief that we can do well in TV dramas.”

Chu and his team have signed co-production deals with TV studios in Shanghai, Hunan and Sichuan. The company is committing $12 million to its new projects, which will be a mix of comedies and period actioners.

Chu hopes TV production will contribute 10%-20% of Golden Harvest’s revenues next year, and 30%-40% eventually.

If things go according to plan, the company will throw an increasing amount of resources into television, but Chu is adamant that none of it will be at the expense of bread-and-butter movie production.

Because all but one or two of its movies annually are shut out of the mainland market by the foreign film quota, Golden Harvest has traditionally focused its marketing on Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

No longer. The company will offer its new series for sale in Mandarin-speaking markets such as Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, but “we expect to make a reasonable return in the mainland market alone,” Chu says. “The others will be a bonus.”

The mainland China TV push is all part of an effort by Golden Harvest to diversify its product range. The company hopes to turn some of its stable of movie stars into singers, for example, with the help of co-production partners from the music biz, and is keen on developing computer and Internet games to accompany its movies.

These are the kind of moves that Hollywood has perfected. Golden Harvest may lag behind in the product diversification game, but it is hoping that its ever-increasing connections to mainland China’s market might be the propulsion that it needs.